The Beyond Meat veggie burger is now all the rage. Veggie burgers are even turning up on conventional and fast food restaurant menus. Let us be clear right out of the gate: We want to encourage–not discourage–consumers to eat plant-based foods over animal-based where possible. That said, this is a highly processed foodΔ (meaning there are more synthetic and industrialized additives than natural, whole food ingredients) and as such includes food additives that may be problematic for some consumers. Aside from obvious ingredients that consumers with certain health conditions have been advised to avoid or minimize like yeast (yeast extract, dried yeast) and nitrites/nitrates (beet extract) there are a number of less obvious additives that may be problematic for consumers with other health conditions–especially consumers told to reduce salt in their diets. The purpose of this post is to take a look at what those food additives are and inform consumers about the reactions that have been linked to some of them in scientific studies, medical studies, consumer reports and clinical trials*.
Food additives in the Beyond Meat veggie burger
- Pea protein isolate
- Expeller-pressed canola oil
- Refined coconut oil
The Beyond Burger also contains 2% or less of:
- Cellulose from bamboo
- Potato starch
- Natural flavor
- Yeast extract
- Sunflower oil
- Vegetable glycerin
- Dried yeast
- Gum arabic
- Citrus extract (to protect quality)
- Ascorbic acid (to maintain color)
- Beet juice extract (for color)
- Acetic acid
- Succinic acid
- Modified food starch
- Annatto (for color)
Sources: Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown and Business Insider
Red Flags associated with the additives/ingredients
At a glance there are a number of additives in the Beyond Meat veggie burger that produce processed free glutamic acid and tend to stimulate glutamate in the body in a process similar to MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). This is not surprising given that MSG is a powerful flavor enhancing additive widely used in processed foods. Consumers sensitive to MSG may experience adverse reactions similar to MSG** to the following ingredients in the Beyond Meat veggie burger:
–Natural Flavoring–aka Autolyzed Yeast (common in meat products including those in ‘health food’ restaurants)
**Adverse reactions may include headaches and migraines, diabetes/insulin resistance/impaired glucose tolerance, weight gain / obesity, skin abnormalities (incl. urticaria), intestinal disturbances, respiratory problems, including bronchoconstriction (this is especially problematic for people with asthma), enhanced threat to people with vascular disease, cognitive impairment, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, hypertension, endocrine dysfunction, burning sensations, pressure, tightness, or numbness in the face, neck, and upper chest, dry mouth/excessive thirst, swelling of face, tongue and throat, difficulty swallowing and more.
Of note: These ingredients may also be present in a variety of other fast
food, conventional, and “health food” restaurant food items.
⇒Cellulose, Methylcellulose and Acetic Acid
The gum that holds ingredients together is used as a thickener and emulsifier in processed foods. (Cellulose gum is a derivative of acetic acid.) Some people may experience digestive/gastrointestinal problems in reaction to this additive. In some rare instances, sensitive individuals may experience allergic reactions to this additive including swelling of face, throat, tongue, dizziness, adverse skin reactions such as rash, and difficulty breathing.
Industrialized versions of this naturally occurring compound are commonly used as a preservative (and to inhibit nitrosamine formation) in a wide variety of processed foods. May cause allergic reactions (hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of face, lips, tongue, or throat, or digestive problems) in people with sensitivities. Some people with a history of kidney stones or kidney disease, liver disease or certain enzyme deficiencies may be advised by healthcare professionals to limit intake of foods containing this additive. High levels of sodium from this additive may increase blood pressure.
So much salt!
Like other highly processed foods, the Beyond Meat veggie burger contains a lot of salts. Individuals who have been instructed to reduce sodium in their diets such as those with high blood pressure, heart problems, obesity, edema and diabetes may be advised by healthcare professionals to reduce or avoid processed foods containing additives such as Cellulose, Methylcellulose, Acetic Acid and Ascorbic Acid, and additives that produce processed free glutamic acid and tend to stimulate glutamate in the body in a process similar to Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) like Yeast Extract, Autolyzed Yeast (natural flavoring) and Maltodextrin.
Fortunately, the CEO has reported that the formulas for their line of processed food items is still in flux and we hope the company’s R&D will continue to experiment with ingredients that may reduce the sodium levels.
Δ The CEO of Whole Foods and the CEO of Chipotle both criticized Beyond and Impossible products, calling them too highly processed…Whole Foods CEO John Mackey warned customers “they are super, highly processed foods.” Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said, “We have spoken to those folks and unfortunately it wouldn’t fit in our ‘food with integrity’ principles because of the processing.”
Food writer and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who has long called on Americans to eat less meat, criticized “the new higher-tech vegan meats” for not addressing “resource use and hyper-processing” (though he has hailed them in the past). His website, Heated, has also given plant-based meats some favorable coverage, but recently wrote nostalgically that “not so long ago … Veggie burgers didn’t masquerade as something they weren’t.” Meanwhile, numerous articles have questioned the health impacts of the products. source
*For more information on chemicals of concern in processed foods, where they are hiding, and the adverse reactions they have been linked with, see our book:
The Food Hacker’s Handbook
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